Antarctic Diary: December 14th, 2002
You don't get rid of something like Antarctica. Not that fast. Not ever, probably.
Since I went the first time, my life's been upside-down. Company imploded on the impact of the 2001 market crash. The tragedy of 9/11.
My book's gone nowhere. Couple of interactions with my editor, then nothing. Been working on a screenplay for months.
It's like the only thing that's real anymore is Antarctica. That's the only thing powerful enough to get through this veil. This mid-life confusion. What the hell next?
It happens like this and no one knows why.
The airport shuttle goes in the wrong direction. He thinks to ask the driver what's up. Is he being taken somewhere to be slaughtered for his internal organs? Has the driver gone mad? Perhaps, even though this van has the word "airport" on the side in big blue block letters, each the size of a baby's head, the driver doesn't know the way to the airport.
The van stops at a car rental place. He looks inside and sees her when she picks up her backpack.
The driver gets out and opens the door to let her in. Puts her big black suitcase in the back.
She's not going to sit next to him in the empty van so she has to climb over. He barely acknowledges this woman who's going to make him late for his flight. It's his fault for leaving too late. Her fault for calling the shuttle at exactly the right moment to cause his ride to be diverted to the north side of town.
She doesn't say hello.
When they get out at the airport, he takes his bags and walks toward the entrance, then the ticket counter with a sense of urgency.
He hears her behind him. She's asking something.
"Are you on flight 82? Do you think it's still here?"
When he turns to tell her it's only going to be there if she shuts up and moves, check in now or forget it--he has to stop because he realizes he's known this stranger for a thousand years. Maybe longer when she takes off her sunglasses and stares right into him like he's made of glass.
Neither of them want to say what's stupid. "Don't I know you?"
Because it's stupid. It's a pick-up line and neither of them wants to be picked up.
They just want to go home. They don't want to make new friends. No falling in love. No nothing. Just move.
They stare at each other longer than what's acceptable in polite company. Don't say anything.
He swallows. She licks her lips. They go to different lines. Check their bags.
He checks in and realizes he's misread the ticket. It wasn't twelve his flight leaves. It was four. He's early by a lot. She's made the same mistake.
He thinks she's switching to an earlier flight. Maybe he should, too.
Why should he? He just met her, a thousand years ago.
They're both four hours early. She's switching to the earlier flight. He hears her do it. It makes him not do it.
When his bags are checked and he has his boarding passes, he thinks to go to the local internet cafe to do some e-mail. It's a small walk from the airport but he has time.
And she's outside sitting on a bench. Watching. He doesn't hear her until he's abreast of the bench.
She calls out something like -- "Nice day--" or "Where are you going?" or "Did you get the earlier flight?" or "Didn't I love you in another life?"
He says "Yes it is. " and "The internet cafe." and "No, I'm keeping the one I have." and "I never forgot."
Because there's a whole conversation going now, it makes sense she follows him. They go to the cafe. Have coffee. He forgets the internet because she's telling him, talking to him, explaining to him why this is so weird and so happening.
While they're sitting there the sun explodes. The Sultan of Brunei walks past. The President of the United States sits at the table next to them and spills half a glass of orange juice on his tie before a press conference.
It's all in the news. The only thing he hears is her saying she has to go now. Her flight.
They just want to get home.
When she's gone he goes on with his life. "Does" some e-mail. He's got a few hundred messages since yesterday. All spam. Only one good one and it doesn't need answering.
In five minutes, he's done and more than two hours till his flight.
The ghost of Hamlet's father walks past and suggests he try the earlier flight. Did he notice his connecting information? Like--there is no connecting information. They're not confirming him on his connecting flight.
He'd be better off trying to fix his connection from the next airport, not this one.
But first he has to switch flights. Improbable now. Pretty late.
He walks back to the airport. Gets in line at the ticket counter. This is going to take a while. It's not worth trying. When he gets to the front of the line some time later he makes up his mind to ask only about the connecting flight.
But they ask him if he can go on the earlier flight. It will make things easier for them.
He says it's okay.
The ticket counter lady jumps from behind the counter like she's going to start dancing. Like a really bad movie. It's so sudden everyone in line staggers backward.
She orders him to follow, so he does. Past security without a screening. Through a locked door the counter lady opens with the swipe of a card on a chain around her neck. Secret code punched into a hidden keypad. Then they're out. Out onto the tarmac where the planes are all sitting like ducks.
Are these your bags--is what the ticket lady wants to know.
He wants to know if he's being arrested. He wants to know she has a replacement back at the counter to take care of the twenty other people in line.
He isn't. She doesn't. Takes him to where the plane's tires are. Points.
He finds his bags. Picks them out. Follows her back through three levels of security waiting for someone to press a gun to his neck and a jackboot to the base of his spine.
Doesn't happen. Back in the terminal the people in line are frantic with airport anxiety. They're never going to make their flights. The flight is leaving and the counter girl danced away with a customer. But now they're back. Everyone rushes to the front. Wants something done.
But she pays them no mind. Gives him a seat. Rechecks his luggage.
Run -- she says. Now -- she says.
He does. Glides through the security scanners he'd just circumvented.
He cruises through. Gets on the plane.
He hears her voice as he passes. He's in the row, in the seat behind hers.
How strange, she's saying when he belts himself in.
You wouldn't believe...he's thinking when the plane takes off.
When they land they're going different places. He to the ticket counter to confirm his reservations. Six-hour layover.
She's getting a cab. Going home to a hotel. Leaving tomorrow.
But they start talking and can't stop. They have a thousand years to catch up.
Her bags come out. He helps her to a taxi.
When she asks, he gets in beside her. Doesn't know why. Doesn't know why not.
They keep talking. Sitting beside her, he notices her eyes are deep brown, like someone he told about last year. Like the eyes of someone mythical. Eyes the color god thought of when building mountains and strong horses.
His are piercing. She says so. Something dangerous. Maybe he's dangerous.
He's a pussycat. He's a sweetheart. He has to tell her that himself.
She doesn't believe him. Thinks she knows guys like him. Knows him.
But that was a thousand years ago. Different now.
At the hotel, he brings her bags up to her room. The room is expansive. King-sized bed. Table and chairs in a big bay window. Outside, a marina. White-sided sailboats bob against bumpers, straining ropes in their slips. Seagulls loiter among the masts,
A sweet breeze wafts through the open patio window, sheer curtain aloft on the air current.
They sit and she shows him pictures of her life abroad. Hang gliding. The beach. The boats.
She's alone in every one. Alone.
He wonders why.
No man has stepped up to take care of her, she says. She's been alone for so long. Inertia now. Doesn't need anyone.
Does he want to use the jacuzzi spa? He's been away a long time.
He forgets all he wants is to go home. Says yes.
She shows him its operation, and then leaves. He's lounging in the water jets and she never comes back. He gets out, gets dressed and reseats himself, now clean and full of cool blue energy, looks through her pictures.
She comes back in. Been doing laundry. Is he done in the bathroom? Her turn now.
When she's out she's next to him again. Thighs barely touching where they sit. Bare feet so close the warmth feels like touch. Six inches between their lips about to evaporate in a kiss when he remindes her, she reminds him he's only going home. Just wants to go home. They both just want to go home.
They put on their shoes and go to a restaurant.
Drink a little eat a little.
"What do you believe?" she asks him. "Are you still Catholic?"
He shakes his head. Doesn't think so. Says, "I believe everything is connected," and intertwines his fingers to make the point. "I believe everything moves something somewhere else. Everything means something if you want it to."
"Like this?" she says.
He looks around. People chat over drinks. Unescorted children mill between the tables.
Her eyes remind him of God. They remind him everything he says goes out into the world and becomes something.
Like he made her up. A character in his own story.
"I wrote a story once," he tells her. "It was this. Sort of. Maybe exactly."
He remembers all he wanted was to go home.
They get him a cab. He tosses his stuff in the back. She kisses him on the cheek.
She wants to know how it ends. The story. He doesn't want to tell her, but she insists.
He tells her the truth. The ending was good for people reading, not for the characters. Did that make sense?
She's not sure. Neither is he. He's never going to make his flight, but he doesn't care. Because he doesn't care, he knows he will.
He gets into the cab, but gets out again fast. Then the kiss on her lips she's been expecting, eyes closed.
"Don't forget," she says.
"I never did." All these years, he knew it would happen one day.
Searching for her is the only story he's ever been able to tell.
Am I ever going to see you again, is what he's thinking when the cab pulls away. He thinks she's thinking that too.
Don't forget me.
Another thousand years starts to go by.